Math Chefs

The application of mathematical concepts is an inescapable part of culinary activities. With a little thought and intention, I believe that we can foster really positive math experiences through cooking and baking projects. Kitchen work presents opportunities to meaningfully and purposefully build, exercise, and expand not only computational skills but also problem solving, predictive thinking, and logic.

I am not a math expert. I don’t feel particularly intimidated by the subject, but I also never studied it beyond my years in conventional secondary school. I don’t feel confident in instructing others in math curriculum as defined by education ministries, but I am versed in making available the ways that math is engaged in culinary activities. Measurement and conversions are the backbone of kitchen work, and when little ones come into the kitchen they are immersed in experiences of measuring, weighing, making comparisons, estimating, and counting. The key is to not do the work for them, but let the challenges be transparent and shared!

This is part of an amazing recipe found at:

Doubling or even multiplying a recipe by 3 or more is a great opportunity to engage with multiplication. The way that you model multiplication is through grouping. For example, we want to multiply by 3, well we want 3 groups of our recipe. We want 3 groups of 1 cup, how many does that equal? Participants might need that modelled, and this level is a just right challenge, or they might be up for the challenge of 3 groups of 1/2 cups. Even if the experience of learning is based on using the 1/2 cup measuring cup 3 times, this is showing comprehension of the concept, but there might also be room to model how to add or even multiply fractions.  And if your like me, and go whoa…how do you do that again? Have a look at Khan academy, an amazing online math resource, to answer those questions and review it yourself first…or when you’re in the middle of it and just can’t remember 🙂

I also find that there are a lot of reasons to convert measurements of cups and teaspoons to millilitres. A recipe that calls for 9 tablespoons and we are multiplying by 3 is a good example. In this case you are certainly welcome to measure it out 27 times…or convert to mL and measure 405mL.  Sometimes just modelling the concepts by doing the math is a good introduction. I have never been convinced that the method of showing then demanding a learner immediately do is always the best approach, sometimes we just want to observe several times before we do. Everyone is different, and has different needs at different times. The point is to provide the environment and the invitations to observe and jump in.

IMG_3361Reasons to engage computational challenges are also plentiful, for example calculating all of the kilometres that were travelled by the fruit in your fruit salad. In the example featured in the photo here, we were able to use this opportunity to also engage learning about place value, and how to add multi-digit numbers. It was a real question to ask where our fruit in the fruit salad comes from, how it gets to us, and how far it has to travel? Like so much of what we learn, we naturally learned and exercised computational skills here in order to answer the questions that curiosity raised.


I have myself experienced the necessity of applying numeracy concepts and computational formulas, for example cooking large community meals and working in a professional kitchens, it became an essential skill for me to be able to assess cost of ingredients, and calculate the amounts needed for purchase based on required quantities and budgets. Children love simulation play, creating a mock or even one time restaurant is a project that is real, really fun, and will engage a multitude of numeracy based skills.

Here are a couple of additional suggestions for where to observe and foster math learning in the kitchen:

  • following and comprehending sequences as demonstrated by the structure of a recipe
  • engaging in conversations and observations about numbers
  • explore pattern making, grouping similar and different objects, making comparisons
  • comparisons and creating grouping categories can also get more advanced, making venn diagrams, for example. I am particularly inspired to do a venn diagram baking class after watching this vihart video:
  • opportunities to cut and make different shapes, for example, using cookie cutters with melons is a great way to explore stars, squares, ovals and so on
  • using and reading scales and other measuring equipment
  • weighing and exploring weights, for example, how much does a handful of pasta weigh
  • more advanced calculations related to volume (how much does the pot hold….if were making soup for 50 people, do we have enough pots?)
  • reading nutrition labels and understanding percentages
  • arithmetic challenges such as doubling (multiplying) and halving (dividing) recipes
  • calculating area, diameter, and circumference
  • ratios! Ratio’s are the key to playful and experimental baking. Once you understand the ratios of fat, flour, liquid for example for muffins – the possibilities for play are amazing fun

Like a lot of learning, math learning happens everywhere all the time – we just need to know where to observe it in action and therefore where the opportunities are to enhance and engage its natural presence.



The opportunities of what to explore when the focus is corn, and the challenge is to weave its story and lore into a cooking workshop, are just so plentiful!  My starting point was guided by my belief that it is important to understand a plant through appreciating its role in the food, medicine, clothing and knowledge traditions of the Original Peoples whose territory we are on. And even this is something that could be broken down into so many different workshops, so all we did was open a husk or two 🙂

We started with learning the names of the Nations who traditional territory that we are on. In Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Brantford we are on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnawbe (Ah-nish-nah-bay) and Haudenosaunee (Ho-deh-no-show-nee) peoples.

We explored creation stories and the Legend of the Three Sisters. Corn, beans, and squash are recognized as the Three Sisters throughout Turtle Island and Mesoamerica. This alone deserves a moment to sink in, recognizing that corn (also known as maize) was grown (and eaten) traditionally with these companion plants for thousands of years.

Read about the Iroquois Legend of The Three Sisters on the Iroquois White Corn Project website, a local project working to keep alive some of  the traditional corn varieties whose cultivation dates back at least 1,400 years in Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) communities.

We also explored the great variety of uses of corn and corn products in the world around us.

corn products


What else could we have explored? The use of corn and corn products beyond just food consumption among the traditional peoples who have cultivated it in years past and currently is one, but we could also explore the struggles around Genetically Modified Corn and the ongoing battle in Mexico and many other nations to prevent it’s arrival. We could have looked into the role of corn as a bio-fuel and the environmental impacts that makes…and the list goes on.

What we did do though with the remainder of our workshop time was to make some super yummy vegan corn chowder, and corn-quinoa muffins.  Oh and the girls started planning out and acting a play in their spare time that they are all going to present this coming week, when we eat together again 🙂


How About Them Apples!

This week the homeschoolers cooking workshop groups was all about apples.  This was not only an opportunity to explore a diversity of apple recipes including a butternut squash and apple soup, apple crisp, and apple sauce, but it was also an opportunity to explore the leading role that the apple plays in stories and lore throughout the ages and throughout the world.

How many stories can you name that lean on the symbolism of the apple?  Snow White and the Genesis story of Adam and Eve are often the first ones that come to mind but scratch below the surface and there are so many more! Greek mythology and Norse mythology are good place to start in order to expand the landscape and observe the apple’s appearance in story and literature. Noticing how often the apple appears and the similarity of the role it plays in theses stories was a fantastic place to start exploring what symbolism is, how it is used in story.

apple docWe also explored all the sayings, idioms, and lore that is rooted in the apple.  Exploring some of these phrases is an opportunity to look into current events and larger issues of justice, and sometimes it is just fun. “Just a few bad apples”, opens up the space to talk about current struggles that communities have with policing, for example.  Where “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” many call up fewer big emotions, but nevertheless is an insight into the role of popular wisdom.  How many phrases can you think of that contain apples? There were no less than 12 that we discussed, and I’m sure we missed some!

IMG_3407If your young person in the KW region is interested in participating in these workshops, please drop us a line!  If there is interest but your families availability doesn’t line up with the times I have already scheduled, please also drop us a line and lets investigate if there are options to make it work!


Learning about the history of civilization one recipe at a time

As a self-directed and unschooling educator, it is so exciting to me when I witness others sinking into their curiosities and passions as legitimate ways of getting to know and explore the world around them. Well, now is the moment to acknowledge my own joy in following a self-directed learning path myself, and in doing so also sharing my awareness of the importance of modelling self-directed education in transparent ways. If you want the little and growing people around you to develop the skills, abilities, and confidence to be a self-directed learner in the world, model it!  Your desire for the growing people you love to have it all is a call to arms, you also get to do this! In fact, you must.  For me, the roots of my curiosity always bring me back to food, collaborative food making, and community building because of food. So when I saw this book that promised to give me an opportunity to explore world history through recipes…I was excited.

Recipe history is a way to get curious about so much more. Following human civilization from 1958 BCE to 2011, “A History of Food In 100 Recipes”, is an exploration of how human patterns, tastes, techniques, and products have evolved. I’m learning about the earliest known recipes found on tablets in Mesopotamia in 1700 BCE through many years and developments that landed Amelia Simmons in the United States in 1796,  perfecting and publishing her recipe for apple pie… and the adventure continues to explore the first t.v dinners and their significance and beyond!

American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life.
This book is significant not only because of the epically long title but  because it is the first cookbook published in the 13 states upon its publication in 1796. Of course, it featured the modern version of apple pie

I am not planning on becoming a food historian. But through exploring the corners and folds of my curiosity, I keep getting to know the world around me with greater depth and context. Where it will all lead is not known and planned out, but I am sure excited about my learning right now!

I get to learn so much by following my curiosity about food, making food, eating food. What are you curious about?

Making Mistakes & Learning In The Kitchen: A Recipe For Being Free

One of the things that I love about culinary work is that it provides meaningful and purposeful opportunities to engage in assessment. Reviewing what the results were, why you arrived at them, and what you might do differently next time is an integral part of the design process and of making the best possible food treats. What I love about introducing this concept to younger folks, is that it immediately creates freedom from all the emotional baggage that comes from the negative experiences of having been judged and tested. We can have the opportunity to experience how “testing” when employed for the purpose of skill building can give us meaningful feedback from which to learn from. 

design thinking

In July, I completed the first trial run of cooking workshops with my perfectly eclectic group of young people. I was delighted with the enthusiasm and joy that surrounded their explorations and experiments in the kitchen. At the end of it all, I shared with the group my gratefulness because I had experienced a positive and safe place to try out ideas, make mistakes and learn, so that I could improve my work and meet my goals. The thing about learning is that we have to make mistakes, and in the culinary realm when we make mistakes we refine our techniques, understand on a deeper level the why’s that explain success and failure, and we build our problem solving and flexible thinking. Moving together through the challenges that are encountered in the kitchen provides opportunities for modelling how staying encouraged, staying flexible, and looking for learning can lead to unexpected and awesome results. Kitchen work provides opportunities to reflect on how a positive relationship with making mistakes can help us to also meet learning goals in other areas. Using assessment and mistakes to learn in the kitchen is an effective strategy for building capacity in people to employ the design method in other areas of learning and life. 

The key ingredient for me to engage with my mistakes as an opportunity to learn, is my ability to laugh at myself. For example, if I am able to see my performance not as a commentary of who I am as a person -equating my value to my production- but rather to relate to my performance as an indicator of my current level of skills and therefore ability to reach my goals, I can learn. The kitchen, where I reframed for myself the value of making mistakes is the foundation that gave me this freedom.    



Decorated Cookie Adventures

I love accommodating all the different food sensitivities and allergies that a diverse group may have, while still attending to my commitment to use the least unprocessed ingredients as possible. So when I was recently making cookies with a group whom collectively covered all the major allergen bases, I was up for the challenge of making (yummy) gluten-free, vegan, refined-sugar free cookies topped with icing that met all the same requirements. As an extra fun step, I was also interested in learning how we could use natural dyes to colour the icing that we later used piping equipment to layer onto and decorate the cookies.

img_28581.jpgNow one thing that I know about myself is that I am perfect for these challenges because I want to do everything from scratch or use ingredients that are as unprocessed as possible – I don’t like using margarine for example, so I am of course going to experiment with making an alternative. I also know that my loyalty to using unprocessed ingredients in combination with also working with substitutions that accommodate numerous allergens can really back me into a dark alley with no exit if I am unable to demonstrate any flexibility.  For example, gluten-free or vegan on their own is not a big deal, but gluten-free and vegan in baked goods is a bigger reach, especially if you don’t want to use highly processed ingredients. 

The cookies were actually not a big challenge, especially since crunchy cookies are considered to be a good thing (the lack of egg has an undeniable effect on texture).  The real challenge and learning lesson had to do with creating an icing that was also dairy-free and refined-sugar free, and most importantly not yucky! Since I preferred to also skip the use of margarine, I was looking for an alternative.  I also was aiming for an icing that we could colour…so recipes that use thickeners like mashed sweet potato and cacao powder were not on the table (I know this sounds like the strangest icing recipe ever, but have a look at the end of this post for this recipe, try it, and you tell me it doesn’t taste amazing!).  These are certainly a lot of parameters to work with! 

IMG_2863My search for a base to the icing led me to explore and experiment with coconut butter.  What is coconut butter? It is not coconut oil. Basically you can end up with a butter like substance by putting dried coconut into the food processor, and with patience and scrapping down the sides you will eventually end up with a fantastic coconut butter – much the same as you would do to make a homemade nut butter.  What I didn’t do was force it through a sieve which would have helped pull out any of the remaining bits.  Now theoretically, at least according to my theories, this should have worked as a butter substitute to be then combined with standard icing sugar or icing sugar that I made from coconut sugar. But it didn’t. The consistency was far too heavy and liquid to make a good icing. In addition, mixing it with the coconut sugar icing sugar resulted in a product too dark for the natural food dyes.  Now in defence of the coconut butter – I would like to try using it in other things but I can guarantee you that if you like the flavour of coconut it is amazing on its own as a spread over crackers or toast.  And there are so many other possibilities for using it that I am also curious to explore. 

So, with the coconut butter and coconut sugar icing a no go…what did I do?  I went out and bought vegan margarine and mixed it with standard icing sugar.  In the end I was not able to find an icing alternative that we could add natural dyes to that was also dairy free, unrefined-sugar free, and did not rely on margarine.  So, if you have any ideas…please feel free to share them with me! One thing that I also know about myself is that I am a skilled learner because I am so capable of making mistakes!

The natural dyes that we used were all derived from plants! The differences in colour were exciting, but more in the palette of pastels rather than eye popping bright colours.

Natural Food Dye Ideas

Yellow: Turmeric

Green: Kale powder

Blue: blueberry juice

Pink: Hibiscus flower powder

Red/brown: Paprika powder

Brown: Cocoa powder


I am so grateful to these amazing young women for being up for the baking challenge with me!